How to Use Layer Masks in Photoshop

On this basic but important video tutorial Aaron Nace from Phlearn look at one of the most powerful tools in Photoshop – the layer mask.

Layer masks make part of a layer visible and part invisible. The main advantage to using layer masks is they can be changed at any time and hence are called “non-destructive”unlike erasing part of the layer which is considered destructive (although you can use your history to go back but this is not a great way of working as you might have done a few things in between).

A layer mask which is completely white is completely visible. When it is completely black it  is completely invisible. You can add a layer mask to your image (actually to a layer on top of your image) and paint on the layer mask in white or black making the top layer visible or invisible (and thus exposing the layer below).

You can use most of the tools in the tool panel on a layer mask including the brush tool, clone stamp tool, gradient tool, selections, etc.

To add a layer mask to an existing layer (remember you will need a layer below otherwise you will be exposing a blank layer under your image), click on the layer mask icon at the bottom of the layers panel or just use the  menu,and go to ‘Layer> Layer Mask> Reveal All’ to make a white layer mask. Adjustment layers come pre-loaded with layer masks, simply paint white or black on them to determine the visibility of the layer.

Nace was also kind enough to share with us some of the most helpful keyboard shortcuts
when working with Layer masks:

  • SHIFT+CLICK on Layer Mask – Disable Layer Mask Temporarily
  • ALT/OPTN+CLICK on Layer Mask – Show Contents of Layer Mask
  • CTRL/CMD+CLICK on Layer Mask – Turn Layer Mask into Selection
  • CTRL/CMD+I – Invert Layer Mask
  • / – View Layer Mask in Quick Mask Mode

When it comes to layer masks you need to remember one simple thing:

  • White = visible & Black = invisible

This isn’t the first video on this subject – make sure you check all of our videos looking at the subject of layer masks in Photoshop.

You can find many more Photoshop video tutorials on LensVid’s Photoshop section (and you can find a lot more Phlearn videos on our special Phlearn subsection).

Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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